Each year, Concord Academy gathers on Martin Luther King Jr. Day to commemorate the life and legacy of Dr. King with a day of thoughtful engagement in social justice discussion, collective reflection, and the continuing strive towards equity within and beyond the bounds of the CA community. The MLK Day programming on January 17 crafted by the Community and Equity (C&E) team featured a myriad of organized activities, enabling students to step outside of their regular academic schedules to re-examine aspects of our own identities, surroundings, and the future we build for ourselves and those around us.

A few days before the programming, the C&E team’s message to the CA community emphasized the very foundation of Dr. King’s legacy: “the belief and pursuit of celebrating and liberating the human spirit.” With the theme of “Joy & Healing,” this year’s MLK Day observance was focused on creating safe spaces for community members to embrace self and collective love with the aim of cultivating our capacity for mutual care and compassion. The theme of this day allowed students to foster intentional dialogues, which acknowledge and celebrate the joy, strength, and resilience of minority groups. Furthermore, it highlighted the urgency of seeking intersectionality between collective struggles for justice through our transcendent love, care, and empathy for humanity––a core reality embedded in Dr. King’s activism and legacy. 

The day began with an opening address from Sarah Yeh, Interim Head of School, and Grant Hightower, Director of Community and Equity. Following their remarks, the student body divided into two groups for their morning activity: ninth-graders and juniors remained in the Performing Arts Center (P.A.C.) for the keynote address while tenth-graders and seniors headed to the Student Health and Athletic Center (SHAC) gym for Umoja’s “Ice Cream” activity. The students were split into various groups—“Vanilla”, “Chocolate”, and “Strawberry”—and were instructed to map out an ideal school with varying budgets, managing through different external obstacles. After everyone reconvened to discuss their results, participants learned about the privileges that propelled some groups’ planning process, while others were challenged with varying degrees of unjust treatment and systemic restraints. A metaphorical undertaking, this nuanced activity provided students with a space to learn, and perhaps experience on a minimal scale, the significant ways our present system is inequitable to various disadvantaged communities.

Following their first event, students had the opportunity to attend various workshops of their choice organized by the C&E team. This year’s program included a discussion around the healing power of Black joy in predominantly white institutions (PWIs) hosted by Dr. Charmain Jackman, a psychologist & CEO of InnoPsych, an organization on a mission to disrupt racial disparities in mental health; an African dance session with Izizwe Dance Collective; and a writing-seminar led by art and social justice group Elevated Thought. 

As the student body went their separate ways into two groups again in the afternoon, the tenth-graders and seniors moved to Ron Jones’ keynote address––a highlight of the day for many. Jones is an educator, writer, and social activist who currently serves as the executive director for Dialogues On Diversity––a leading social justice theater company in the nation. Delivering a vast array of stories, filmed theatrical dialogues, and lessons in historical events, Jones dissected the undermined history of Dr. King’s activism, the dangers of “caring, not knowing,” and demonstrated the irrefutable entanglement between the human rights movements of the past, present, and the foreseeable future. 

The 2022 MLK Day was a vessel for vigorous reflection and immense gratitude as the whole community was able to gather in person once again to revive this valued slice of CA traditions. As the semester progresses forward, we hope to see members of the community, students and adults alike, continuously make the choice to find space and time for each other’s support, compassion, learning, and healing––working collectively towards creating mutual strives of equity and justice for all.